URC Youth member Alison Greaves will be flying to New York next week as the UK’s sole delegate to the United Nations 2017 Winter Youth Assembly. The event, at UN headquarters from 1 to 3 February, involves 13,000 young people and adults from over 100 countries.
The eighteen-year-old, who attends Bamford Chapel and Norden United Reformed Church in Rochdale, is in great demand for conferences. This week (27 to 29 January) she is speaking to the United Reformed Church Youth Assembly in Whitemoor Lakes, Staffordshire about the task ahead!
Alison, from Passmonds near Rochdale, was on a family holiday to New York last year when she first saw a banner advertising Youth Assembly. Months later, when preparing materials for a church home group meeting about climate change, she visited the UN website for research – and an ad for the Assembly popped up on her screen. ‘I clicked on it,’ she said, ‘and there was the application form so I thought, “Why not?” I read through the details and knew that was what I wanted to do.’
The keen traveller has already notched up previous adventures to Namibia and Taiwan. She then discovered that her ‘have a go’ approach to the UN had also been a successful one.
She said: ‘I couldn’t believe it when got an email to say I was going to be a delegate. I did think there would be someone else going from Britain so I asked if I could get in touch with them. It was then the UN told me that, though there are three others, they all have dual Nigerian nationality and would be representing Nigeria because they study there for most of the time. That leaves me, just me, to officially represent the young people of the UK!
Alison said: ‘Personally I feel this is how I am going to let Jesus shine in my life. My role now is to educate people, in particular young people, about the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These aim to improve 17 aspects of life in both the developing and developed world. The goals include: No Poverty, Zero Hunger, and Quality Education.’ She has chosen the goal of ‘Good Health and Wellbeing’ as her personal focus.
Launched in 2004, the Youth Assembly – recognised as the largest youth conference at the UN – gathers the brightest and most active youth leaders from across the globe. ‘As a result of this opportunity, and telling others about how they can make a difference through the Development Goals, I’m potentially – hopefully – changing people’s lives for the better. Ultimately I think that’s what God wants me to do.’
Alison regularly attended Junior Church as a child and is very much involved in the life of what is now Bamford Chapel and Norden URC. She said: ‘We’re fortunate in that we have a lot of young people, quite a lot more compared to most churches, so we have quite a bit going on, including a big social youth group on a Sunday night. About 18 of us go, some are churchgoers, some aren’t. It’s a great mix.’
Her eyes were opened to the wider Church when she went on a trip to Taiwan two years ago with North Western Synod as part of its link to Chiayi Presbytery in the Global Partners Programme. ‘Visiting Chiayi was incredible,’ says Alison. ‘I’d been to Namibia with my school in 2013 and did some work as a proof-reader and translator in Germany the following year but going to Taiwan allowed me to experience a totally different culture. It was fantastic and so, so different.’
Her faith also came under the spotlight during the Taiwanese trip. ‘Before that time, I’d been to church and went to a church school but I hadn’t really thought what faith meant to me personally and in my life. In Taiwan, I was asked to give my testimony! I’d never done that before; I hadn’t experienced a big, life-changing moment in faith so I wondered if I’d have anything to say but it was very special.’
Last year was the first time she went to URC Youth Assembly and it proved to be another turning point in her Christian journey: ‘I had met the young people in my own church but, before Assembly, I had never been in the same place as so many other young people who were Christians. It was so much fun and I really experienced God there. This year, they’ve given me a slot to speak about environmental policy and what will be happening in New York. I can’t believe how much has happened so quickly.’
She is also particularly interested in the URC’s involvement in the Joint Public Issues Team; a venture of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church and the Church of Scotland. JPIT helps the four churches work together on issues of justice and inequality. Alison says: ‘I became aware that JPIT targets similar areas to those encompassed by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. I would love to work in partnership and see what can be done as a joint team to benefit all organisations and to further the work of God in the world.
‘I don’t want all of this to be about me,” said Alison, ‘and I’m not doing it for my CV. It’s to make more people aware of what the UN are doing and it’s also a bit of a “mini mission”; I want to do as much as I can every day because of my faith in Jesus.’
Alison and will be starting a degree in Child Nursing at Northumbria University, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, on 21 March. Keep up to date with her blog at: www.seeingtheworldfromanaeroplanewindow.wordpress.com